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Bright outlook for this season`s rabi crop

By Mohiuddin Aazim 2016-11-14
ROSPECTS of rabi crop this year are apparently better than last year, but a lot will depend on the availability of irrigation water and on the timing and amount of winter rainfalls.

`The two main Rabi crops wheat and maize are expected to yield more and we`re also anticipating improvements in the production of gram and moong,` said a senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. `Going by the sowing euphoria in Punjab and KP and taking into consideration other positive factors, we can say the country will harvest the targeted 26m tonnes of wheat.

Last year, the initial target of 25.8m tonnes for wheat production slipped slightly to 25.4m tonnes.

Information gathered from wheat growers reveals that sowing has started across the country and if the fields receive adequate winter rains at the right time i.e January-February, plants will give a good yield. Rains before January and too much or too little rain will dampen the wheat crop`s prospects.

A drier than expected weather in October and in the two weeks of November has been a blessing this year according to farmers, who added that sowing wheat in dry soil requires a lower dose of pesticides. Subsidy on farm inputs will be also a positive factor.

Government officials say that according to the latest estimate as of end October, the availability of irrigation water for Rabi crops is likely to be short of the requirement 30.3m acre feet against the usual requirement of 36.3m acre feet.

`This is a big concern as this much shortfall in irrigation water may really have a negative impact on the rabi crop, particularly if water distribution also remains flawed,` worries a senior official of the Sindh Agriculture Department.

Officials of the Punjab SeedCorporation claim that enough stock of high-yielding wheat variety seeds is available for distribution and farmers are being encouraged to use it. They say farmers are also offered wheat graders free-of-charge in many districts.

Rains in August and September in parts of the wheat growing belt have been helpful because of their timing. Too dry soil (in case of no rains one to two months before sowing) and too wet soil (in case of rains hitting just around sowing), both are not good for soil preparation and yield, these officials say.

Officials of the Sindh Seed Corporation and Sindh Agriculture Department also claim that availability of seeds of highyielding varieties is adequate and distribution to farmers has been smooth.

But growers in Sindh complain that unlike in Punjab, free-of-charge use of seed graders has not been in sight.

Besides, small farmers have not been able to get good seeds of wheat from theSeed Corporation which, according to them, has focused mainly on big, politically-connected wheat growers.

Government officials and farmers are also upbeat about the prospects of this year`s maize output. Maize is grown both in the kharif and rabi seasons. `Chances are that total maize output this year will be 5.2m tonnes, half of which is expected to come from the rabi crop,` a senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research told this writer.

The Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, under an international programme, earlier this year launched two hybrid seeds of maize that are bio-fortified and high yielding. These hybrid seeds are being used during the rabi crop as well, growers say.

But, they add, unlike in kharif, rabi maize growing often gets second priority because its sowing coincides with wheat whose economic gains are better.

That is why representatives of thePakistan Agri Forum believe that this year`s rabi crop of maize may be slightly over 2m tonnes. They, however, say the total maize crop may exceed 5m tonnes, the level recorded last year, as kharif maize, according to them, has already yielded about 3m tonnes.

Availability of certified seeds that are up to farmers` requirements has always been a key issue. Despite all efforts made so far, local supplies of quality seeds meet only a small percentage of the demand. The Federal Committee on Agriculture noted last month that during the rabi season, the domestic supply of certified seeds of wheat and maize would cover only 36pc and 44pc respectively of growers` total requirement.

Production of gram inclusive of all of its varieties during this year`s rabi crop is set to cross 400,000 tonnes and that of moong pulse to 200,000 tonnes, according to officials.

But growers in Punjab and KP claim that gram output may even exceed 400,000 tonnes and blame crop reporting centres of the province for under reporting the output of minor crops.

They say whereas officials make field trips to assess production of major crops like wheat and maize, they often use stylised projection of the output of minor crops.

Farmers in Punjab, KP and also in Sindh say that they are also hoping to harvest a good potato crop during this Rabi season. The government has set an initial target of 3.8m tonnes, equal to the last year`s actual production.

`Field reports from Punjab and KP show that farmers are upbeat about production of potato and other minor crops both because of improvement in intra-country supply chain and also because of last year`s upward revision of the crop loan limits by the State Bank,` an official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research told this writer.